Janet Jackson

Velvet Garden

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R&B has never been a high priority among bootleggers. If an R&B artist interests bootleggers, it's usually someone with a lot of pop or rock appeal; Prince, for example, was among the most bootlegged artists of the '80s and '90s, and bootlegs by Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, and Sly Stone have also turned up over the years. A rare example of an R&B bootleg that surfaced in the late '90s was Velvet Garden, which was recorded from the soundboard at New York's Madison Square Garden on October 11, 1998. The sound quality is excellent, and the double CD comes with a lavish 12-page booklet that looks like the work of a label's professional art department. The tireless Jackson is quite spirited during a two-hour performance that includes everything from "Nasty," "The Pleasure Principle," "Miss You Much," and "What Have You Done for Me Lately" to "Black Cat," "Escapade," and "When I Think of You." But as enjoyable as her vocals are, something's missing -- namely, spontaneity. Like a lot of urban contemporary artists, Jackson is so studio-minded that she tries to bring the studio to the stage, and the result is a band that is so reliant on technology that it doesn't feel like a real band. So while you're admiring Jackson's performances, you're also wishing that her high-gloss, high-tech band didn't rule out spontaneity in the name of precision. Nonetheless, die-hard collectors will want a copy of Velvet Garden if they can find it.